Don’t Photograph the Landscape

Beginning Landscape Photography

I have never been recognised as a landscape photographer and yet it was my first love and has always been my greatest love in photography. I had my confidence destroyed in early club competition, by judges who said or implied that I was not a landscape photographer and never would be until I got out before dawn. Otherwise, I might have specialised.

When I was about 5 years old, my Dad first let me use the Leica that he had brought back from Germany after the war – he had been stationed in the Military Government in Hamburg. He obtained a Leica by trading cigarettes and other much needed commodities that could feed or clothe a family. He also acquired a Luger pistol, but that had to be thrown overboard on the journey back home in 1947. It was the Leica that sparked my Dad’s interest in photography, which was to last for another 65 years, but for him, it was the equipment that was the magic and he always wanted the latest camera. For me it was always the pictures, never caring much about the camera with which I shot them. I always used Dad’s cast-offs. These days, I have two recent camera models. My photographs are no better that they were with my old cameras, but they do have some nice features that help to make life a bit easier. Living in Saddleworth gives so many opportunities to capture our beautiful surroundings.

Don’t Photograph the Landscape…

Anyhow, it’s time I got to the point of this article, which is “Don’t photograph the landscape…”. You’ll notice the three little dots, called an ellipsis, which means that something has been intentionally missed out. I use it a lot in my writing and often incorrectly, but this time I really mean it. The sentence should end “….photograph the light”.

There are many many articles on the web giving 5, 10, 20, even 30 tips for photographing landscapes, but this is the only one I intend to offer today. It’s the one that governs everything I do in landscape photography. For those of us who dare to call ourselves photographers, rather than camera owners, we should already know how to focus and expose correctly and maybe have learned enough about composition to know when to follow and when to break the rules. I’ve said it may times, in relation to all types of photography “light is everything”, so this follows on from my previous article about shooting autumn landscapes.

Chasing the Light at Dovestones

Chasing the light again, this week, I set off for Dovestone Reservoir on the morning of November 4th, after a very wet spell but with the promise of mist and sunshine. The mist turned out to be more dense than I expected and the sun was hidden behind thick cloud. Disappointed, I considered whether the light was good enough to be worth continuing at all. I decided to have a good walk anyway. I was an hour into the walk before the sun started to cut through the mist and it provided some very interesting conditions, washing out the usual red-brown colours of the brackens and reflecting all in the completely still water. Some might say it was drab, but I thought that the soft light was revealing patterns I could work with, so I made sure that the famous Dovestone tree was prominent in each image and did my usual best to capture the natural patterns in the landscape.

Dovestone 4th Nov 2020

For the second hour, I walked and ran, backwards and forwards, watching the light and endeavouring to capture something of the excitement I was feeling. My husband tells me I am like a little dog, running here and there as I spot another part of the landscape that has just caught the light and, it’s true, I did also bring back a stick from this visit, one covered in lichen, probably dropped by another little dog! By the end of the 2 hours, I had used a lot of energy and the sun had gone behind dense cloud, destined not to return for some time. The water had become more choppy, so the magic had gone, but just before it fizzled out completely, I had five or ten minutes of beautiful light and dramatic contrasts.

There’s always somebody who comes along at this point and says “Lovely isn’t it?”. “Yes”, I reply, “beautiful” (thinking instead “please go away!”). “Are you getting some good photographs?” (I’m thinking “well I might do if you just go away and leave me to it”), but I politely say that I hope so, as the light is stunning. “It’s always lovely up here isn’t it?” (“No, sometimes it really, really isn’t and this lovely light will soon be gone…please go away”). Man wanders off, I finish and walk back to the car. “Hope you didn’t talk to any strange men”, my husband asked when I got home. Well, I tried not to.

Dovestone 6th Nov 2020

The next day, the light was not so good, but November 6th was forecast to be misty and sunny again. Once I surfaced that morning, there was thick fog, but within half an hour I could already see a little blue sky peeping through. I was going to miss the mist if I didn’t get a wiggle on! So, I grabbed my kit and dashed out, managing the couple of miles to the dam in record time.

It was a completely different sort of day. By the time I arrived at Dovestones, the sun was coming through the mist and behind it was a clear blue sky. Where the sun came through, the colours were already golden and vibrant against the delicate features of the hills beyond.

It all kicked off at 9:45 and was over in just over a half hour, as the mist quickly cleared, leaving strong colours and harsher contrasts in its wake. But that half hour was magic and the quality of light was so different than it had been two days before.

As conditions changed and I tried to keep away from the large numbers of lockdown tourists who had now invaded our once peaceful place, I waded through mud to photograph some trees against the sun. I was quite pleased with these and have posted a couple of alternative versions below (I feel birthday cards will be the best use for these).

There were so may images that I liked from the shoot, it was difficult to choose which ones to include. That means, I probably included too many. Very few will ever be used in competition. A small number will be made into prints for whenever Covid allows me to lecture in a real room again, rather than by Zoom. Most will be sent to my stock agency and some might eventually sell.

Thoughts on Covid Lockdown

November 5th marked the beginning of our second Covid lockdown period in the UK. Thinking back to the first week in November last year, when I was also at Dovestones photographing the autumn colour, the car park was almost empty when I arrived, apart from a small number of other cars, maybe three. We are allowed to leave our home for exercising during lockdown and it seems to me that travelling 2 miles by road from my home (just over a mile as the crow flies), is not an unreasonable distance to go for my regular photo walks. But, honestly, this was a mid-week morning and the car park was full already. On the 4th, there was even a full sized coach there and on the 6th, there were minibuses full of people and groups of up to ten people blocked the paths as I tried to get past. Many were not observing any social distancing rules at all…some totally oblivious that they were causing me to have to wade into mud to get out of their way…please remember that the Oldham area is one of the most infected parts of the country at present…please observe the rules. Better still, if you are reading this, please don’t travel out of your area to visit just now. Dovestones is a beautiful area which will still be here for all to enjoy when Covid is under control.

I have enjoyed both taking and processing these photographs and wittering on a bit, for anyone who cares to read this. I hope you have enjoyed some of the photographs, but it will never be as much as the enjoyment I had making them!

© Christine Widdall